A/N: This is my first published piece! Or it will be soon. Notes at the end.


Sasha squirmed in her hard backed chair, uncomfortable and impatient. The lunchroom was cold, and she couldn't wait for the lecture to be over. She didn't want to be there, and when she asked her mother why she couldn't play instead, she had replied, "Because it's good for you, and everyone has to do it." Something had seemed vaguely wrong about that statement, but before she had a chance to ask why, she had been hustled off to the school, had met up with Laira, and had completely forgotten about it.

Now, the teacher had been talking for a really long time, and Sasha's legs were turning numb, and she was getting bored. Sasha had heard all this before; she didn't need to hear it again! She knew the government provided for them all, she knew they had to be grateful for the government's care, she knew that when she grew up she would be an important helper for the government. She knew that anyone who was mean to the government was bad, just like anyone who was mean to their Mommy was bad. And in Sasha's mind this gave her leave to slip out of her chair and head out the back door, into fresh air and freedom.

Sasha reveled in the breezes and made her way down to the lakeshore, dancing to her own inner tune. The lake was lined with beaches, most of them public. But this side – "the other side" – was a small, non-descript strip of rough sand, pebbles and junk. And this was where Sasha liked to go when she had nothing else to do. The sand was easy to work with; leaves made really nice decorations. Pieces of glass made windows, sticks made flagpoles, pebbles made people. A tiny world formed under her fingers, directed by her mind alone, and lived to her will, day in and day out. It gave her a certain amount of pleasure to know that she was in charge.

An older girl with long curly brown hair made her way down the slope to stand on the other side of Sasha's latest village. Sasha looked up at her silently, and the girl returned her stare. Abruptly, she knelt down and said, "What are you doing?" in a tone of voice that really said, "What are you doing, because I'm awfully interested and maybe I'd like to play with you?" Sasha giggled and replied, "I'm making people! And telling them what to do, and where to go. See, this is Mary, she's about to go to work. And this is Susy, she's walking her dog, see? But she's only allowed to go down this street, and she can't go past this house here." The girl didn't say anything, then asked, " I saw you leave the lecture. What did you think of it?" Sasha blinked, then said, "I dunno. It was boring; I've heard all of it before! Why can't they tell us something new?"

"What do they tell you?"

"How the government is so great, and how it's keeping us alive and safe, and how we're all important to the government and how when we grow up we'll all be big important people that do big important things and we'll all be really famous!" Sasha waited for the customary approval of this speech, and was surprised not to find it.

"Did nothing strike you as unusual?" The girl was looking a bit excited, as if she was waiting for something to happen.

"Um, no? Why would it? It's the truth, isn't it?"

The girl sighed and said, "The government is like your world here. It tells the people what they have to do, and how they have to do it, but not why they have to do it. Do you tell Mary why she's going to work? Did you tell Susy why she couldn't walk her puppy over here? I didn't think so. But people need and like to think, and when they are told not to, they aren't happy. Even when they don't know anything else, they aren't happy."

This speech confused Sasha, because it went counter to everything she had ever heard. Yet at the same time, it excited her. Here was something different! Here was something she could question, and get answers to. Sasha spent a long afternoon with the curly-haired girl, talking and playing, and slowly learning the truth of the world. When the day was at a close, the girl gave her a small paperback book to read. When Sasha opened it to a random middle page, she saw a picture of a big tree overshadowing a lot of bushes, colored in pretty shades of green and blue. Happy, she took it and ran home.

The house in which Sasha lived with her family and Aunt Cornelia was a modest picket house, nearly identical to its almost identical neighbors. Its only redeeming feature was its pale pink trim and small bay window in front. She like to sit there and read sometimes, and now was no exception. She was five pages into it when her mother, Elaine, came home.

"Hello, dear – oh, what are you reading?"

Sasha held up the book to show the cover, and her mother gave a shriek.

"NO!" In three steps Elaine crossed the room, tore the book out of her daughter's hands, and ripped it in half with a white face and trembling hands. "Don't let me catch you ever – reading things like this – ever again!" Sasha could only scream and watch as it was reduced to a shower of white shreds.

"Mommy, NO! STOP it Mommy, that's MINE! Give it back! Stop it, stop it, STOP IT! MOMMY!" But her mother didn't stop until not one word was left next to another, and the window seat was covered in paper fragments. She stood shaking, eyes closed, then sank down beside Sasha and enfolded her in a tight embrace. "Don't – " she whispered. "Don't ever – "

Sasha trembled in her mother's arms, crying. Elaine had never done anything like this before, and Sasha was terrified. At that moment a cold voice cut between them like a knife.

"What is this?"

The simple sentence was spoken with such hate, such loathing, that the voice almost didn't seem human. Sasha's mother broke away as if burned, and turned to face her merciless sister. Sasha's Aunt Cornelia had been a sergeant in the National Army, the terror of all recruits, before an accident injured her too badly to return to duty. The rumors about her were outrageous, but everyone who saw her still swore they were true. Cornelia was a bull of a woman, large and large boned. She had short blonde hair, tiny blue eyes, almost no neck, and was all muscle. It was almost impossible to imagine that Sasha's timid, frail little mother was related to this perpetually angry woman.

"What is this?" She repeated, holding a fragment of the cover in her hands as if it were filth. "Do I see rebel propaganda in my own sister's house? Elaine, what is this?"

"No, Cornelia – it's not what you think – I – " Elaine stumbled over her words, as scared of her sister as she had ever been at any time during their childhood. Sasha cowered back into the window, trying to stay below her aunt's red-faced radar. It was no use.

"You! Girl! What did you think this was? A picture book? There are words, girl! It's not one of your silly children's books; it's propaganda from the rebel faction who wants to overthrow the basis of our very lives! Do you know what that means, girl? It's fake! It's just something they made up to throw people off, to make them think something other than what they should, other than what's good for them! Bah, I don't even know why I'm talking to you. You don't understand." And she rounded on Elaine, unleashing all her more than formidable fury on the poor woman. Cornelia verbally lashed Sasha's mother to the bone for something she had already punished Sasha for, calling her a fool, a traitor, and worse. Sasha looked on wide-eyed. Here was proof of what the girl had told her. Here was the bullying, the mindlessness, the oppression. It drove home, down to Sasha's young core, what was wrong with all she had ever known.

Sasha carried the incident silently inside of her for the rest of her life, through her teenage years when she was shunned for her quiet booky ways, through her higher education when she was alone among a crowd of conditioned young adults looking forward to jobs in the government with unhealthy excitement. She learned to hide her precious knowledge, to act like the multitudes. Memories of the summer of her eighth year faded until all she remembered was a nameless, faceless curly-haired girl, playing with fairies on a sunny afternoon, and the feeling of something very, very important.

To be continued...

A/N: So, what did you think? I really would have made it longer, or shorter, but by the time I was one and a half pages into it, I found out that they wanted it to be two pages long. -.- So I had to scramble and cut things short. Review, please!